A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the world’s surface. They were once thought to be an unlimited resource, too vast to be damaged by humans. But that view is changing. By some accounts, 90 percent of the big fish that existed half-a-century ago are gone. Billions of pounds of fish are wasted as unwanted “bycatch.” And hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine life have been killed by oil spills and toxins. As a result, ocean activism is growing — for more public awareness, sound conservation policies, and enforcement of existing laws. Actor Ted Danson talks with Diane about his 25 years as an ocean activist.
- Ted Danson actor and activist
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from “Oceana,” by Ted Danson. Copyright 2011 by Ted Danson. Excerpted by kind permission from Rodale.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us I'm Diane Rehm. Ted Danson is best known for his award-winning television and film roles, but for 25 years, he's also devoted himself to protecting the world's oceans. In a new book, he tells a story of his journey from actor to activist and what he believes we must do to turn around the crises facing our oceans today.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled, "Oceana" and Ted Danson joins me in the studio. You can join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter, Ted, good morning to you.
MR. TED DANSONGood morning, Diane, thanks for having me.
REHMI gather your interests in this book really go back to almost age seven and before?
DANSONWell, the age seven story that I start the book off with is meant to be humorous, but it is true. I did wake up with a nightmare that reoccurred for about a month. And when I described to my family what the dream was about, I said, I was sitting on a beach and God's voice said, Ted, you have one hour to empty the ocean into this bucket, and then handed me a spoon with holes in it, or the whole world will explode and it will be your fault. It's your basic messiah complex dream, which we actors are known to have.
DANSONSo I kind of set it off, but it is true that I start my story by saying, you know, I was at least concerned for a very long time about oceans. But it probably really didn't fall into place until during the "Cheers" years.
REHMWhat did your parents say when you came to them with that dream?
DANSONSomething probably like, oh, Lord, Ted, oh, Lordy, get a life, you know, go play with your friends. I'm not sure what they said, but it's funny because my father was an archeologist, a scientist ,so I was surrounded by science as a kid and it went all over my head. Not an ounce went in, except perhaps in one kind of sense that our purpose here in life is to be a good steward of what we've been given.
REHMWhere were you living at the time?
DANSONI was in Flagstaff, Ariz. My father was the director of the museum and the research center. He had a PhD in archeology.
REHMSo you weren't surrounded by a lot of water?
DANSONNo, no. And going to the ocean to visit my cousins in Southern California was like a pilgrimage, you know. It was like the whole family would jump in the car and drive across the desert. And getting there and spending a month there with my cousins was like, you know, the happiest time in our lives. Everyone was happy. No matter what age, we were all happy at the beach.
REHMSo 25 years ago, you're in the midst of doing "Cheers" and what's happening?
DANSONA couple of things. I suppose a little guilt that they were paying me so much, you know, I'd better start being responsible. I also moved into a neighborhood, was walking with my two kids who were eight and four and we literally bumped into a sign saying, no swimming, water polluted, and I had no idea how to answer it.
DANSONAnd I also went to a neighborhood meeting and met a man named Robert Sulnick who was the head of No Oil, Inc., which was doing battle to keep Occidental Petroleum from digging about 60 oil wells right along Santa Monica Bay, right on the beach. And we got together and with a lot of help, we won that battle. But we enjoyed each other's company so much we naively -- I mean, like, my father has a barn, let's put on a play. Let's start an environmental organization...
DANSON...and we started American Oceans Campaign, talked to scientists, hired a lobbyist and really, you know, innocently and naively started this with a lot of help though from Leon Panetta, Barbara Boxer, then Senator Al Gore, a lot of people supported the idea of focusing attention on the oceans.
REHMYou know I've, over the years, done numerous programs on the oceans, on what's happening on fishing, on the loss of habitat in the ocean, but it's very vivid in this book. When you think about the sharks, the tuna, the swordfish, the marlin -- and you've got charts in this book showing what the population was 25 years...
REHM...and what the population is now.
DANSONIt is, it is. I mean, when I was growing up in the '50s, if there were, you know, this many and I'm holding my hands wide apart, shark, they're now ten percent less. Ninety percent of the big fish are gone, fished out. And when you mess around with the top of the food chain like that, you have a -- you know, there are a lot of consequences. And that's basically the story of the book.
DANSONWe talk about a lot of different things. We talk about oil, energy, and pollution, but really over-fishing is the major threat to our oceans. Some scientists literally believe that we could, if we keep fishing in the destructive, wasteful way we are, worldwide, not this country, it's pretty good, worldwide we could conceivably, commercially fish-out our oceans in our grandchildren's lifetime.
REHMIt's really hard for people to grasp that.
DANSONRight, especially in this country where you can go to any market, any restaurant and order any piece of fish you want. It's like, oh, they must be hysterical about it. But here's some science behind that statement. In 1988, Dr. Pauley did a study in 2000 and discovered that in 1988 the world fish catch, landed fish catch, started going down for the first time in history with more and more boats with sophisticated equipment and spotter planes, more and more boats going out and bringing back fewer and fewer fish.
DANSONThe fish catch has gone down steadily since 1988. A third of the world's fisheries have collapsed, which, they're below that ten percent historical level. The UNFAO says that 70 percent of our fisheries are either fully or over-fished. We have two and half times the amount of boats on the water to sustainably fish because they're so heavily subsidized.
DANSONSo there are a lot of -- at the same time, by the way, that you're fishing out the top of the food chain, scary things are happening to the bottom of the food chain that we didn't know about 20, 25 years ago, which is called ocean acidification. And that, just briefly, is where we're pumping so much carbon dioxide into the system, it filters down and it's specifically us burning coal and oil, fossil fuels. This is not up for debate, it is just science. And it filters into the ocean, it changes the PH balance of the water just enough to make it a little bit more acidic, which means the calcium that the corals and the sea snails and pteropods use to make their shells cannot bind together.
DANSONSo you're overfishing the top of the food chain, being incredibly wasteful and at the same time the bottom of the food chain is getting attacked. So you could see how you could conceivably squeeze the life out of the ocean.
REHMTed Danson, his new book all about our endangered oceans and what we can do to save them is called, "Oceana". If you would like to join us, call 800-433-8850. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has of today passed the Commercial Seafood Consumer Protection Act. What does that mean?
DANSONYou know, I'm not sure what exactly the wording of that bill is, but basically the reason for it, the facts behind it are -- I think it's the FBI that says that they did a study and it's something like, somewhere between 25 and 70 percent of what you -- when you're eating a piece of fish, it's not what you think it is. So you may be paying for a nice piece of red snapper or, you know, wild salmon and you're not eating that fish...
REHMAnd how are you going to know?
DANSONWell that's tough.
REHMYou're going to ask.
DANSONYou're going to ask. There are certain -- well, first off, you're going to pass a law like this because it's very important to understand where our fish are coming from, not just because you want to be eating what you're paying for, but if you disguise what's happening to the fisheries by claiming one fish is another fish, you'll never be able to responsibly manage that fishery. So it's very important for the health of the oceans, not just for your health, to know what you're eating.
REHMSo if you walk into a Whole Foods or a Safeway or a Giant and it says right there in front of you you've got Atlantic fresh salmon...
REHMSo you say to the fellow behind the counter is that truly wild Atlantic salmon?
REHMWhat's he going to say, Ted?
DANSONHe's probably going to say yes.
DANSONYeah, I know, which is why we need these laws. And you know, some of the law -- I'm not sure what the wording of this law is, but what you need to know is where that boat, you know, where that fish comes from. You know, what boat did it come from? They do this in Europe, in places in Europe. And the Gulf fisherman right now, because the Gulf has been so tainted with the oil spill, people are afraid to eat Gulf seafood so they are going to start doing a program where you will know exactly where that boat was fishing, what it caught, when and -- you know.
DANSONI think we are headed in this direction because seafood fraud makes you not want to buy fish and eat fish. That's the sad part, you know, of this. It hurts the industry as well.
REHMMost people would say if it tastes okay...
REHM...if it's fresh, I'll eat it.
DANSONRight. Well, I might ask them, how do you know it's fresh?
REHMYeah, well, of course.
DANSONBut here's the reason this is not about fish. This is about you. It's about your public health. It's about jobs. It's about fishermen. Public health, one out of six women -- and it's -- this was the EPA numbers during the Bush administration. I think it's actually gotten better. Maybe it's one out of ten women in this country have too much mercury in their system to safely give birth to a child without neurological damage. And they get that mercury from fish so you need to educate yourself.
REHMTed Danson, the book is titled, "Oceana." Short break and right back.
REHMAnd here's our first email from Michael. He's in Conway, Ark. He wants to ask of Ted Danson, "What are your thoughts on aquaculture?"
DANSONIt's definitely the direction we're going to be heading. There are problems with aquaculture that deal with carnivorous fish. If it's tuna, it really doesn't work. If it's salmon, it really doesn't work and here's why. We get most of our farm salmon -- and we all thought this was going to be the great gift to mankind, you know. And it will be, but you need to be careful. Farm salmon, most of it comes in this country from Chili. They kill three to five pounds of wild fish, grind it up and feed it to the farm salmon to make one pound of farm salmon. So in other words, the ratio's crazy. You're wiping out the local stock to make one pound of farm salmon that we can eat up here.
DANSONAnd down -- you know, so up here, life is good. Down in the southern hemisphere in the markets, you know, fish are getting smaller and farther and fewer between because of that killing -- grinding up and killing three pounds to make one pound. Just doesn't make sense. Also, the amount of antibiotics and stuff that is used is really not good for you. So be brave in a market and in a restaurant, say, excuse me, is this farm salmon? Ah, well, then, never mind. I'll have the Tilapia or the whatever.
REHMAnd you do ask that.
DANSONI do and it's very embarrassing. And it's -- you know, but you need to do this and you need to do it for yourself. Not because you're a -- you know, an environmentalist trying to save fish. No, you're trying to save your health and at the same time, make sure the oceans, you know, are fully stocked.
REHMThere was a huge front page Science Times' piece the other day on jellyfish...
REHM...with, you know, these extraordinary photographs of these long...
REHM...tentacles hanging down, and on a beach mounds and mounds...
REHM...and mounds of these jellyfish that had washed up. What's happening with jellyfish?
DANSONWell, I don't know literally what critter or fish it was that was eating the jellyfish, but that fish is no longer around. Whatever was eating the jellyfish and keeping them in balance probably got fished out. You know, it happens. You see it -- whenever you overfish the top of the food chain, there are consequences. And I think it was South Carolina. All of a sudden, the scallop industry fell apart and they realized -- this was a few years ago. They realized they had wiped out all the fish -- the shark population in their waters. The shark eat the rays that eat the scallops. You get rid of the sharks, the rays, you know, become plentiful and devour all your scallops.
DANSONSo you need to keep a balance in our oceans and you need to be managed in a way so that you're not -- you know, so it's very clear what fish or fishery -- what fishery is healthy, which one is not and it needs to be managed. And I must say that this country is pretty good at it, it really is.
DANSONAt managing our stocks. Now, our stocks are, like I said, you know, probably 10 percent of what they were. That's probably not a scientific thing, but it's way less than what it was when I was around in the '50s. So we're doing a great job of managing what's left.
REHMOf what's left.
DANSONNow, can we -- I have to turn this a little bit and say this is all fixable. This is all -- this is not an, oh, dear lord, change the channel because here comes another big thing to weigh down my day. This is fixable. Fish stocks will rebound, if given the chance. There are things that we can do. So one of the things I loved about putting this book together is -- and I did it with a lot of really bright people. This is not Ted sitting down and tossing this off. This is Oceana, the organization, this is Mike D'Orso, a wonderful writer, and it's Rodale.
DANSONBut the book gives you hope. It tells you what to do, what countries and nations need to do and what you as an individual need to do because we can literally turn this around. It is possible.
REHMAll right. So you want me to ask when I go to the grocery store, you want me to ask when I go to restaurants. What else do you want me to do?
DANSONOkay. And the reason why I want you to do that, not only is to make sure our fish stock are healthy, because of public health, for your health. You need to do it for your sake. And there's a real handy easy way to do it. Most of us are carrying around these Smartphones nowadays. Go to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch app on your phone -- Seafood Watch app and you can -- it'll tell you where you are and what fish are good for you to eat there, why -- why they're sustainable and which aren't. It makes it very, very easy for you. It educates you.
DANSONSadly, you all -- all of us need to become international activists. And we need to do it if we want to save our oceans. One of the reasons why -- and this is not just saving fish. A billion people around the world depend on fish for their protein and mostly in poorer countries. This could be a huge worldwide hunger problem if we do not manage the world's fisheries. Also, 300 to 500 people -- sorry, 300 to 500 people (sic) , you know, depend on that for their livelihood. It's a hundred billion dollar a year industry. It's insane that we don't take care of it and manage it in a bright smart way.
REHMBut, of course, as you said, the U.S. is doing a pretty good job of it. The cooperation with other countries on these issues is not always perfect.
DANSONNo. But there's a great opportunity that's happening at the World Trade Organization right now. In this Doha round they are, for the first time, having language and environmental concern about the amount of subsidies going to fishing fleets. It's a hundred billion dollar a year industry. Twenty-five billion goes -- of tax dollars goes to increasing the size of the engine, paying for the fuel, making the nets bigger, increasing their ability to catch more fish, increasing their ability to go out and do more of the wrong thing.
DANSONIf you cut those subsidies, which any smart business would do, then you would get half the boats off the water and it would make a huge difference. And the World Trade Organization has teeth because of tariffs so it'd be huge.
REHMBut what happens to those people whose boats are forced off the water?
DANSONSo use those -- that -- not my call, but if -- you know, if I were a country, I would use that tax dollar to reeducate, you know, take care of -- use -- subsidies that take care of fishermen are great. Subsidies that wipe out the oceans are not great. So, you know, you take care of business. Because if you don't, nobody will be -- those fishermen who you care about will have no jobs anyway. I mean, we have ghost towns up and down the east coast because of that.
DANSONAnd let me add one more thing. This country is really good about subsidies. We do not over-subsidize our fleets, which is why when we go to Congress, Republicans and Democrats almost unanimously are in favor of this.
REHMHere's an email, let's see, saying, "What do you think about the European Union's common fisheries policy in which fishermen are forced to throw back massive amounts of perfectly edible but dead fish to satisfy EU quotas? In fact, what do you think about the growing trend toward international catch quotas generally designed to benefit the shareholders of international fishing corporations rather than to protect the world's fish stocks?"
DANSONI'm an actor, for god's sake. How can you ask me that complicated question? No. This is a good time for me to jump in and say, hey, guys, I’m the man in front of the tent saying thank you so much for watching "Cheers." Come on and let me introduce you to these marine biologists that I'm standing next to. That has been my job all the way through this. So to answer that question, please go online to oceana.org -- oceana.org. Pose that question and they will respond and get back to you. There are so many bright people there...
REHMTed, how much...
DANSON...who are not actors.
REHM...how much of your life are you devoting to this?
DANSONIt's pretty much -- crazy as it sounds, it's pretty much what I do when I'm not acting, is I run around talking about fish. And I -- but I do want to emphasize that I am so not an expert. I probably know a hell of a lot more than most actors about fish, but I am -- what I do -- and it's what I did in this book is I use the ability to get the microphone or the press to introduce people to something that I care about. And introduce them to scientists and marine biologists and lawyers and lobbyists and people who do this for a living professionally.
DANSONAnd this book is that journey, my experience with these people. And they will educate you about what's going on. Can I jump -- answer a little bit of that question?
DANSONOne of the real huge problems that we have with our overfishing is these huge trawlers that are so powerful that they can drag nets -- bottom trawlers that can drag nets where you could stick a 747, you know, and the wingtips would not touch the opening of the net. And they destroy the bottom, the nurseries. They grind up the corals and the nooks and the crannies where the little fish grow into the big fish that we like to eat. Then they pull them up. And because they are after the fish A or B, they end up throwing away -- one-third of the world's catch is thrown away, dead or dying. This is not responsive of that gentleman's question, but it's one of the reasons why we have such a problem. A third of the world's catch is thrown overboard dead or dying because of our fishing techniques.
REHMTed Danson, do you feel you could be doing this kind of political activism if you didn't have good friends in the high places?
DANSONIs this a reference to the Clintons? No, no, I'm sorry. I mean...
REHMNot only the Clintons. I mean...
DANSON...those are the only people I know in high places.
REHM...John Kerry, Al Gore, Barbara Boxer.
DANSONThose were people -- they're my heroes. I mean, lord, Barbara Boxer's one of my heroes. She so encouraged us when we were this totally naïve and said, what can we do? Can we start an -- she was very, very supportive as were all these other people. Yes, absolutely. I owe them -- you know, I owe them this journey really.
REHMBut you've gotten really passionate about this.
DANSONYeah, because it's one of those amazing potential worldwide disasters that does not have to happen. It's a great story. Hey, how did -- hey, grandma and grandpa, what did you do when you found out that we were fishing out our oceans? To be able to turn around and say, well, this is what I did and this is why we still have fish. That's an exciting thing. We should not be overwhelmed by this. We should educate ourselves. We should let science lead the way and then you pass laws to change policy and you enforce those laws.
DANSONIt's pretty simple. You know, we can do this. Fish do rebound. There's a great story where CNN did this story of fishermen in Kenya with these big beaming smiles because for the first time in decades, fish were just about jumping into their little wooden boats because the Somalian pirates had so terrorized the big fishing fleets in that neighborhood that they had stayed out. So when given a chance, when these huge trawlers are gotten rid of, you will not -- here -- sorry -- here's a little example.
DANSONNinety percent of the world's fishermen are artisanal fishermen that know how to do it and have been doing it for centuries. And they catch 10 percent of the fish. Ten percent of the fishermen in the world work on these huge trawlers and catch 90 percent of the fish. So if you want a good jobs program, take care of the oceans. You know, this is not about fish. It's about jobs. It's about the economy. It's about national security.
REHMTed Danson and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We -- just so you know, Ted, we have added the Seafood Watch app...
REHM...that you mentioned earlier to our own website.
REHMSo people can go there and find it. We've been talking about the new book that Ted Danson has participated in, written the introduction for and many, many experts have participated in this project titled "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Savannah, Ga. Good morning, Dillon, you're on the air.
DILLONYes. I am curious to hear -- I might've missed it, he might've spoken about it, but the issue of bi-catch. My wife and I have been vegetarians for 15 years and now that we have children, we were thinking of maybe going back to seafood for protein. But then, National Geographic's had a special issue out on the state of the oceans and I had no idea that, you know, for every pound of seafood that makes it to market how many pounds of fish are killed. And so that pretty much stopped us from going back to eating seafood. Are -- does that app that you were talking about, are there ethical ways to eat seafood without contributing to the issues of bi-catch?
DANSONYes, there are. And there are a lot of -- thank you. Thanks, good question. The scary thing about doing NPR is everyone is so -- all the callers are way smarter than I am, but here we go. There are -- there's a whole technology coming around, a whole industry of closed system aquaculture where -- and you can do this with vegetarian fish, fish that eat, you know, plant food.
DANSONYou cannot do this, I don't believe, or certainly not yet, with carnivorous fish like salmon and tuna. But you have a closed system that -- so that the waste that comes from the fish is used to make the plant material that they will then eat. And it's a closed system that is filtered so that they don't have -- you know, one of the problems with aqua fishing is sometimes you have escapes where the farm fish escape into the wild and then you -- you know, you dilute the gene pool of the fish that they mingle with or whatever.
DANSONSo, yes, there is aquaculture coming our way that I think definitely -- and sometimes -- in some places is already here -- that will be good for you.
REHMThanks for calling, Dillon. To Putney, Vt. Good morning, Lex.
LEXYes, hi. I just wanted to ask if you have heard of a film called "A Sea Change," with a dear friend of mine Sven Huseby addressing ocean acidification. It's a wonderful little film and is a great documentary.
DANSONI have and they came and talked to us -- in mid-making of that film came to talk to the Board of Directors of Oceana. And they are -- they -- the film is fascinating and it really does spell out kind of one of the big scary things that's facing our oceans.
REHMDo you think that we're going to truly see the rejuvenation of the Gulf of Mexico after that spill?
DANSONYeah, I'm not an expert on that, but I -- yes, I bet we do. I think it'll always face, you know, huge problems 'cause it's such a source of oil. And oil spills happen and toxic fluids get pumped out of healthy wells that don't have accidents. I mean, it is a problem. But, yes, there is certainly -- there are areas -- I will learn a lot more, by the way, by the end of this evening 'cause I'm at the Smithsonian and there's a panel talking tonight about the health of the seafood in the Gulf. So I -- you know, too bad I didn't do that last night.
REHMBut also the chemicals that were put...
REHM...in there are going to...
REHM...one would think, make the whole situation a lot worse.
DANSONYes. We don't really know, I don't think, what has happened to our -- the nurseries and the larva.
REHMTed Danson. You know him as the star of Cheers. He's also an activist and the new book titled "Oceana" is all about our endangered oceans.
REHMAnd here's another email for Ted Danson, who with a team of experts, has written a new book. It's called, "Oceana: How Our Endangered Oceans What We Can Do To Save Them." As an employee of Whole Foods, Alicia says, "I do want to point out we are very vigilant about being open and honest about where our fish comes from. We even post information about sustainable seafood. I'm very happy to hear you all discussing this topic. It's one about which I feel strongly."
REHMAnd here's another from Peter in Tarrytown, N.Y. who says, "There is no such thing as fresh fish in your market. It was frozen at some point in its process. If you didn't catch it yourself, it ain't fresh."
DANSONOr at least meet the boat as it comes in. That's -- yeah, that's true. And even if you meet the boat who -- you know, that boat could have been out in the water for a very, very, very long time.
REHMAnd here's one that says, "I'm looking forward to reading your book. Are there skills you developed during your acting career that helped you become an activist?"
DANSONHum, you know, I -- you know, I think most -- well, sure. I mean -- and as I stutter, I was about to say, yeah, you learn to communicate. I guess not. You know, I think -- I think what you need is, you know, is just the desire to leave things better than when you found them, you know. I think -- and the desire to give back, you know, and that sounds so trite. And my advice to anybody is don't wait until you have something to give back. Give back now before you have anything. Give back. Start giving back. You will feel so much better about being an activist and doing something to make the problem better than sitting there and getting beat up by headlines. Do something.
DANSONIn this case, "Oceana," you can click on a, you know, on your computer, go to oceana.org. There's a place for you to become a wavemaker, which is an e-activist. And then you click here if you agree with what's happening in Chili and we need to send some emails. And 60,000 of you e-activists changed laws in the, you know, in the United States. It had a massive impact on protecting our oceans. So you can become an international activist with 10, 15 minutes of your week.
REHMDoes your wife, Mary Steenburgen, share your interest?
DANSONYes. And she has her, you know, her own -- her own plate is very full, but she's very supportive of this work and absolutely.
REHMWhere is she now?
DANSONShe's in Nashville because she is a song writer. Three and a half years ago, she literally -- our life -- her life changed. She started hearing music. It was the most astounding moment. Literally, I was married to one person one day and another person the next day.
REHMOh, come on.
DANSONIt came out of -- literally, and it came out of nowhere and she now has a publishing deal with Universal. And she goes down to Nashville and writes music with, you know, all of her...
REHMWhat kind of music?
DANSON...friends. Right now, it's mostly country because that's where she is. She's in Nashville and Matraca Berg has an album out and Mary has a cut on that album. So she's out in the world.
DANSONShe's, you know, she still acts a lot, obviously. We're both in New York doing "Bored to Death" on HBO, but that's her lot.
REHMAre you having fun doing that?
DANSONYeah, yeah, very much so.
REHMYou like that?
DANSONOh, Lord, it's the best silly job a man could ever have.
REHMThe best silly job.
REHMAnd you feel good about doing silly jobs.
DANSONI love playing silly people.
REHMHere's an email from Gayle on the eastern coast of North Carolina. She's heard reports that the autopsy -- they autopsied some turtles and found helium balloons in them.
REHMThey mimic jellyfish.
REHMWhat about controlling the balloons?
DANSONWow, that's such a -- well, great issue that we should all, you know, state by state, tackle. You know, in Australia, they've banned plastic bags for -- you know, for that reason. We need to get a hold of plastics because there is -- we've all heard of that kind of island -- that floating island twice the size of Texas in the Pacific that is just plastic soup. And you will not -- my guess is be able to ever clean that up because it's not -- it's not about scooping...
DANSON...up bottles. It's about -- it's about plastic soup that is so broken down, but will never go away. So you need to, you know, do that on a local level, absolutely.
REHMHere's Judy in Annapolis, Md., good morning to you.
JUDYGood morning, Diane. I want to talk about this because it's such a tiny little place and so remote and nobody ever goes there, but it probably causes more harm than anyplace. It's Tokelau in the South Pacific. We went there on their little 30-day -- every 30 day ship -- cargo ship. And when we arrived in Tokelau, they took all these huge -- this huge mountain of cargo and the natives came aboard, ripped off the plastic, which had to be a quarter to a half acre large, and thick, and they threw it into the ocean.
JUDYWell, I went ballistic, but I am a little grandmother. And couldn't -- couldn't holler enough, but, anyhow, give that some thought when you write your next book.
DANSONOh, next book. Thank you, thank you very much. And, you're right, this is -- this is something we all -- you know, another little thing. One percent of all the money raised in the United States for environmental issues, one percent goes to ocean advocacy -- goes to ocean work. The oceans are such an out of sight out of mind. We thought that we could dump anything into them and take anything we want out of them and there would never be a problem. Well, we, literally, have reached that point where that's no longer true.
DANSONWe could conceivably, if we keep going, collapse the vitality of our oceans.
REHMDo you remember that back and forth you got into with Rush Limbaugh a while back?
DANSONIt wasn't back and forth.
REHMHe said what he said...
DANSONIt was just forth. I don't think you do back and forth with Rush. It's just forth.
REHMYeah. He said what he said, you said what you said.
REHMWhat did you say that got him going?
DANSONI -- well, you know, I could, you know, the moon is up and that would probably get him -- but, no, you know, it was a great lesson because I think I, in my exuberance, exaggerated and said some scientists believed that if we do not -- we have a 10 to 15-year window to change the way we are dealing with the oceans or we could, you know, they would cease being the way they are or something. And he took that to be, you know, the end of the world is coming. Ted Danson's end of the world.
DANSONBut, you know what, it's great because it was -- like, for me, it was like being schooled that let science speak for you. Don't, you know, don't exaggerate, don't over blow things. Let science speak for you and then, you know, let it go.
REHMHere's an email from Stuart in St. Louis, Mo. He says, "After two years of pestering the managers at one of our local high-end grocery stores, I managed to get them to stop selling Chilean sea bass...
REHM...which is the Patagonian toothfish."
REHM"It was a great feeling."
DANSONYeah. Well done. I mean that's an example of, you know, a fish that's been named many things and we keep eating it blithely thinking how wonderful. I'm getting that lovely Chilean sea bass, you know. And, once again, the problem is, by doing that, you disguise what is truly happening to our fisheries. You fish out an entire population of fish and you move onto the next one. We are now -- some people say we are now eating what our grandparents used to call trash fish, you know.
REHMNot a happy thought.
REHMNot a happy thought.
DANSONNo, but fixable. We need to, you know, wake up and become activists and jump up and down.
REHMLet's go to Louisville, Ky., good morning, Joe.
JOEGood morning, Diane. I want to congratulate Mr. Danson and tell him thank you very much. I'm very proud of what he's doing. A quick comment first and then a quick question. I was down south last year in Pensacola, Florida when the oil rolled ashore. And within a day's time, the sea birds disappeared, the crabs disappeared, the fish in the water disappeared and you could taste and smell the stuff in the water that...
JOE...the stuff that was breaking up the water. It was awful. And when we left, we still hadn't seen any sea birds or anything down there. It was terrible.
JOEAnd they were saying it was safe to go in the water so it's hard to trust the authorities down there. Anyway, my question is how do you and your organization feel about opening up more of the coastline, especially the Atlantic coast they're talking about...
JOE...and the Florida coast?
JOEWhat would you say about those...
DANSONWell, I feel very -- thank you -- very, very, very strongly that there should be no more new offshore oil drilling. People, you know, in this country, I think, have been -- no. Sorry, I'm trying to mask my words here and be gentle. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have said the reason why the gas prices are so high is because we put a moratorium on offshore oil drilling. And it has absolutely nothing to do with it, period.
DANSONDomestic production -- how much we pump out of our country has nothing to do with the international price of oil. The only thing that sets that is the international market. You know, it's what happens in the Middle East. It's what happens in China that sets that. It's speculators. It has nothing -- if you graph domestic production and then you overlay prices at the pump, they have nothing to do with each other. The only thing that dictates price at the pump, you know, is -- and so it's a very cynical lie.
DANSONYou know, it's, like, people are scared because times are tough and the gas prices are hurting us so, yes, of course, drill off of my backyard. I'm willing to sacrifice my -- my coastline like they did in the Gulf because it'll be worth it. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. They do not, you know, fill up their tankers from that offshore oil drill and say thank you so much North Carolina, South Carolina. We're going to give you this gas, this oil, at a reduced price. No, it heads oversees and goes to the highest market, you know, so do not believe that. Do not believe that.
DANSONAnd it has nothing to do with being able to drill your way out of foreign oil. We do not have that much oil under our land. We have something like two to three percent of the world's oil and we use 25 percent.
DANSONWe will never drill our way out of foreign oil.
REHMWhat you do have, especially here in Washington, are members of Congress and lobbyists for the oil companies...
REHM...who want to see their profits go up.
DANSONRight, right. And they have infrastructure they want to keep filled. All right, the rest -- and they have successfully PR'd the climate change argument into oh, it's silly, you know, we don't believe in that. And the science is faulty, which is crazy, because the rest of the world -- but, all right, let's say, all right, we won't even talk about whether climate change is real or not. The rest of the world believes it. The rest of the world is investing heavily in alternative sources of energy that will soon become cheaper.
DANSONSo in Germany, they are now the leader of wind turbines. We pioneered that. They are now the leaders. China's invested $300 billion in alternative sources of energy. So while we're holding onto this oil argument to save jobs, we are, you know, we will be importing all of these -- the equipment that they -- and the technology that the rest of the countries are developing. And our trade deficit will go skyrocketing once again because we are the dodo's who stuck to the oil argument.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, you know, Ted, in a way, you cannot separate the arguments about saving the ocean from the arguments about devastating what's happening to our lands as these oil drills -- the gas shale...
REHM...all of that is disfiguring this country.
DANSONRight. And I drove here in a car. And we all use oil. Pardon me. So you're never going to not need oil. You're never going to, you know, stop drilling for oil in this country. I don't believe that. And that would be naïve and stupid, but for alternative energy to be minimized as this child's sweet like thought that will never come around, as opposed to having a Manhattan-like effort style -- you know, project emphasis on it to really turn the corner on that, is wrong, you know.
DANSONAnd the rest of the world gets it and we're not behaving like we do.
REHMOf course, I continue to remember the arguments over seatbelts in automobiles.
REHMHow much they would cost the industry. They would bankrupt the industry. And now, instead of putting money into solar or wind...
REHM...or any of these other alternatives, they're all saying not worth it.
REHMNot worth it.
DANSONYeah, or research and development for that thing that we don't know is around the corner because, you know -- by the way, if -- what is the population supposed to do in the next 30 years? Another, you know, huge amount of people are coming our way. And if China and India are growing up and wanting more and more oil and this is an international market and we are -- there is a limited supply of oil in the world.
DANSONLook at oil prices. Look at how far offshore oil we have to go to find the oil. We found all the easy oil. So if we do not invest and find a cheaper, cleaner energy for ourselves -- you know, to create jobs for ourselves, to make our country stronger, then we will really be behind the eight ball, you know, 10, 20, 30 years from now when the world population explodes.
REHMSo you have great friendship with the Clintons. Have you had an opportunity to put your ideas before the Obama Administration?
DANSONNot -- no, not personally, but I'm, you know, very happy with some of the things that they have done. I'm very happy that the moratorium is in place. And, to my mind, they get -- they get it. Now, you have to frame -- and this -- you know, well, you could disagree, but you have to frame everything nowadays in terms of jobs and the economy. So it's not like you can blithely write these environmental, you know, dictums that will make the world better. You have to somehow find a way to make it about jobs.
DANSONSo, I think, they're hobbled in a certain way with what's going on, but they, to my mind, to my eye, they definitely get it.
REHMBut the offshore drilling?
DANSONWell, I think that was a mistake, but the moratorium was put back into place, you know. And I, you know, if it is lifted, I will yell and scream and shout, but, by and large, I do think that they are headed in the right direction. This is huge. This is a huge conversation. This will be, you know, a conversation that will be going on for years, but -- so it's not -- it's not black and white and simple.
REHMSo you'll come back here to us.
REHMAnd talk more.
DANSONYeah, well, if you'll have me, yes, as an actor who's not an expert, but who likes to talk about fish .
REHMTed Danson, the book we've been talking about is titled, "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them." Congrats.
DANSONThank you. That was really fun...
REHMThanks for being here.
DANSON...to talk to you, thanks.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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